The Insane Waiter

Running wild on customers, chefs, owners and managers since 1997. I bring to you, The Insane Waiter. What do bring to your table? A crisp bottle of San Pellegrino ? Perhaps a lovely seared Sashimi Tuna? Start off with a wonderful bottle from Tuscany perhaps? Why I'll be more than happy to bring you your White Zinfandel and Chicken Caesar. No you can't order the mac and cheese off the kids menu and sorry no, we don't serve cheese sticks....

Monday, March 31, 2008

Top 5 reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right” is wrong


Top 5 reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right” is wrong

1: It makes employees unhappy

Gordon Bethune is a brash Texan (as is Herb Kelleher, coincidentally) who is best known for turning Continental Airlines around “From Worst to First,” a story told in his book of the same title from 1998. He wanted to make sure that both customers and employees liked the way Continental treated them, so he made it very clear that the maxim “the customer is always right” didn’t hold sway at Continental.

In conflicts between employees and unruly customers he would consistently side with his people. Here’s how he puts it:

When we run into customers that we can’t reel back in, our loyalty is with our employees. They have to put up with this stuff every day. Just because you buy a ticket does not give you the right to abuse our employees . . .

We run more than 3 million people through our books every month. One or two of those people are going to be unreasonable, demanding jerks. When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you every day and make your product what it is, or some irate jerk who demands a free ticket to Paris because you ran out of peanuts, whose side are you going to be on?

You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them . . . If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.

So Bethune trusts his people over unreasonable customers. What I like about this attitude is that it balances employees and customers, where the “always right” maxim squarely favors the customer - which is not a good idea, because, as Bethune says, it causes resentment among employees.

Of course there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service. But trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

2: It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage

Using the slogan “The customer is always right” abusive customers can demand just about anything - they’re right by definition, aren’t they? This makes the employees’ job that much harder, when trying to rein them in.

Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. That always seemed wrong to me, and it makes much more sense to be nice to the nice customers to keep them coming back.

3: Some customers are bad for business

Most businesses think that “the more customers the better”. But some customers are quite simply bad for business.

Danish IT service provider ServiceGruppen proudly tell this story:
One of our service technicians arrived at a customer’s site for a maintenance task, and to his great shock was treated very rudely by the customer.

When he’d finished the task and returned to the office, he told management about his experience. They promptly cancelled the customer’s contract.

Just like Kelleher dismissed the irate lady who kept complaining (but somehow also kept flying on Southwest), ServiceGruppen fired a bad customer. Note that it was not even a matter of a financial calculation - not a question of whether either company would make or lose money on that customer in the long run. It was a simple matter of respect and dignity and of treating their employees right.

4: It results in worse customer service

Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, took it even further. CEO Hal Rosenbluth wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second - Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.

Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

They care more about other people, including customers

They have more energy

They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with

They are more motivated

On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:

Employees are not valued

That treating employees fairly is not important

That employees have no right to respect from customers

That employees have to put up with everything from customers

When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, real good service is almost impossible - the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: corteous on the surface only.

5: Some customers are just plain wrong

Herb Kelleher agrees, as this passage From Nuts! the excellent book about Southwest Airlines shows:

Herb Kelleher […] makes it clear that his employees come first — even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’”

If you still think that the customer is always right, read this story from Bethune’s book “From Worst to First”:

A Continental flight attendant once was offended by a passenger’s child wearing a hat with Nazi and KKK emblems on it. It was pretty offensive stuff, so the attendant went to the kid’s father and asked him to put away the hat. “No,” the guy said. “My kid can wear what he wants, and I don’t care who likes it.”

The flight attendant went into the cockpit and got the first officer, who explained to the passenger the FAA regulation that makes it a crime to interfere with the duties of a crew member. The hat was causing other passengers and the crew discomfort, and that interfered with the flight attendant’s duties. The guy better put away the hat.

He did, but he didn’t like it. He wrote many nasty letters. We made every effort to explain our policy and the federal air regulations, but he wasn’t hearing it. He even showed up in our executive suite to discuss the matter with me. I let him sit out there. I didn’t want to see him and I didn’t want to listen to him. He bought a ticket on our airplane, and that means we’ll take him where he wants to go. But if he’s going to be rude and offensive, he’s welcome to fly another airline.

The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better of without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.

Top 5 reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right” is wrong

Monday, March 24, 2008

Run, don't walk...

As I walked past a table that had just vacated I noticed the credit card poking out of the payment folder, being that the customers were just exiting I picked up the book and gave chase.

Background: These were the type of customer that a server hates, impatient, demanding and incapable of ordering anything on the menu.

In fact they declared that, “They don’t do menus.”

Being that they were the type of sophisticated who apparently make up whatever they want wherever they go I was less than thrilled to have them.

They declared that although they won’t eat any animal products, that they will eat fish, which I found amusing, aren’t fish some of God’s creatures?

I guess not to pseudo-aristocratic fools.

I digress…

I gave chase out the doors.

“Sir, sir! You forgot your credit card!” I shouted.

The group turned around, the man who made payment had a look of alarm on his face.

“Here you go,” I said breathlessly as I opened the book to retrieve the card.

The moment I did that I froze as I saw the tip they left me and my motions hesitated.

“Oh thanks, did we take care of you ok?” Asked the man.

“Well if you think eight percent is a proper tip then you should feel pretty good about yourself.” I responded.

I then froze in my tracks, it just sort of came out, I’m known for having a smart mouth and usually I can control it with customers, well not this time.

He gave me a queer look and took his card.

That is precisely the reason why I don’t make any effort to chase down customers who leave items, whether it be leftovers, credit cards or laptops.

That is unless I notice 15% or more on the tip line.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Dear table 47...

I want to thank you for the little note this afternoon.

While I know I am not the perfect server I am thankful for the note you left this afternoon.

I haven't received a complaint in about four years, other than the letter protesting the gratuity on a new years eve, because they didn't feel like tipping.

Well the note was interesting to say the least.

The first claim was that I didn't deliver your drinks and that you would never come back.

Well I recall pouring your water and one Iced Tea, when I offered to refill you waved me off.

Naturally you asked for a lemon and a straw, something every tap water should come with.

The second claim was that I never checked back on you, however when I offered a refill on your tea I was waved off as I made sure the meal was satisfactory.

I know it was awful that I ignored you and I want to apologize, but I won't.

As well I didn't offer you your bread and oil, though I know it is a precious commodity, we don't offer such at lunch and I know it is a travesty.

As well the table next to you left me a shitty tip because they figured I forgot their bread as well, my mistake I suppose.

Naturally the next insult was far overboard, I didn't offer you separate checks...

Even though you both ordered the same thing.

Even though I carry the tickets on me that I fell will need them first.

I guess it was worth writing a message to the manager though, damn a waiter who dares assume two ladies who order the exact same thing may be on one check.

Even though it took me perhaps thirty seconds to rectify the "situation".

Thank you for the complaint, we always welcome feedback from our guests, even if it is the stupid writing of an idiot.

Thank you for stiffing me on both separate checks as well, it was a pleasure to pay a dollar each for the pleasure of waiting on your type of white trash…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

so true


The new hiring manager had but one promise to me when he took over...

"If I'm going to hire a dumbass, I'll at least make sure they're hot as hell."